So I’m doing a massive Marvel Cinematic Universe marathon in anticipation for Age of Ultron, watching all the live action movies and the TV shows in chronological order. Each day I either watch one movie or two episodes. Today I watched episodes 6 and 7 of the Agents of Shield show, but I haven’t had time to write this post until now. So let’s discuss the first phase of Marvel’s in-house movies in order of my least favourite to most favourite. Keep in mind this isn’t a quality comparison but a peek into my personal taste.
I don’t quite get the hate that Ang Lee’s Hulk gets. Sure, it’s overly long and you don’t even see the Hulk for about an hour or so, the special effects are terrible and the climax is just confusing. Most of the acting is actually really good though. The dynamic between Bruce Banner and the Hulk is deep, touching on his abusive father and all the repressed anger that goes along with it. Can’t say the same for Incredible Hulk. Edward Norton is fine as Bruce Banner, but he seems kind of 2-dimmensional; the relationship he has with the Hulk reduced to “I can’t get too excited.” Liv Tyler is boring as Betty Ross, and Jennifer Connolly was far better in Ang Lee’s Hulk. Tim Ross is probably the most developed character in the movie as the very driven military man who later becomes the Abomination and his performance is great. The action is good, but it doesn’t make up for an overall boring movie. This is my least favourite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie so far.
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 has some great elements in it. The story arc where the reactor keeping Tony alive is slowly killing him brings some very dramatic moments and good character exploration. The climax with Iron Man and War Machine teaming up is fun. On the downside, Whiplash wasn’t that great of a choice for the main villain. I like the whole Hammer vs. Stark Enterprises conflict but it pales in comparison to most other movies. But the movie’s biggest problem is that it almost feels more like an Avengers prequel than it does an Iron Man movie. The Black Widow is a major character, but feels mostly tacked on and is only there to look hot and beat up bad guys in impressive ways. Her fight scenes are awesome mind you, but she’s given much more character in her later appearances. At least for my tastes, this is the most mixed of Marvel’s movies in terms of quality.
Captain America: The First Avenger
From this point on, I like all the Phase 1 movies and don’t have any major complaints. The First Avenger in some ways isn’t a great movie, but it’s fun. This feels like a classic adventure movie with all the over the top sets, Hugo Weaving hamming up his Red Skull performance and the overall cheerful mood. There’s still plenty of character drama, good pacing and the most impressive pre-Avengers action scenes in the MCU. Even though this is by no means the best Phase 1 movie, it always ends up making you feel inspired, and that’s not a bad thing.
While this is, objectively speaking, the best of the pre-Avengers movies overall, it’s not quite my favourite. Robert Downey Jr. is absolutely perfect in the Iron Man role. He sounds like a mad genius whose wheels are always spinning. You buy him as a jerk at the start of the movie, and you completely buy his change in attitude after his experience in the cave. He genuinely feels like a changed man and that’s what makes this movie so compelling. I’m not a fan of Iron Man as a character, but this movie, more than any of his other movies, made me care about his journey. On top of that, the plot is compelling, Tony Stark developing the Iron Man suit is fun, and the fairly realistic villain makes the stakes feel more real than most of the other MCU movies, phase 1 or 2. The post-credits sequence introducing Nick Fury and mentioning the Avengers was exciting back when it came out, and watching it now, it’s a reminder of how much effort Marvel put into building their Cinematic Universe slowly and carefully.
I know, this isn’t one of the greater Marvel movies. The finale is the most anti-climactic fight we’ve seen yet, and Phase 1 had frequent problems with anti-climactic fights. With my personal tastes though, I value character development above story and action. The story of Thor losing his powers because of his brash actions, and his journey to learn wisdom and humility, really works for me. The dynamic between Thor, Loki and Odin is the strongest point of the Thor movies, even if they don’t always share much screen time. I also enjoy the whole exploration aspect, with Thor discovering Earth during his exile and eventually falling in love with both the planet and several of its inhabitants. Also the music is great. The first two acts of this movie are fantastic; it’s just a shame that the 3rd act was a huge letdown. The character work and the sense of discovery was enough to offset this movie’s shortcomings for my tastes, and that’s why I prefer this over Iron Man.
The fact that this movie even happened is still amazing. A combined Cinematic Universe, along with a movie featuring all the stars from the various franchises joining together, is a feat worthy of history. Sure, this movie’s not perfect – the first act is a bit clunky and we never learn how Thor reached Earth, but once the movie gets going it’s fantastic. All six Avengers have their own character arc (Hawkeye gets the short end of the stick), and they bounce off each other well. The conflicts between them keep things interesting, but they’re more than willing to work together when the alien invasion arrives. Everything about the climax works. It’s fun, it’s dark and the stakes are incredibly high. The Avengers work to contain the threat within a few blocks and minimizing damage and casualties– a far cry from Superman blowing up a gas station in Man of Steel after telling people to go inside. That’s a rant for another day. Anyway, this is hands down the best Phase 1 movie in the MCU – just a glorious movie.
When I finish the first season of Agents of Shield, I’ll probably do a post talking about both that and Agent Carter, and my phase 2 post will include Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and Agents of Shield season 2 up to whatever episodes are released when I make the post.